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Geopolitical issues of Kosovo

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President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia has confirmed his intention to attend the Victory Parade in Moscow on June 24th. «I have received an invitation from Moscow, so naturally, I will represent Serbia at Victory Parade», – Srbija Danas cites him as saying. «Few countries can pride themselves on anti-fascist struggle like Serbia. I will proudly hold the flag of my Fatherland on Red Square in Moscow», – the Serbian president said.

The Serbian leader also said that he was planning to meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin within the next few days ( on June 17 or 18).

According to reports, one of the key issues to be discussed at the forthcoming talks is the situation involving Kosovo. In the words of Aleksandar Vucic, the  current state of affairs has forced him to give up on putting forward “great initiatives” relative to the Kosovo issue and  he is waiting for proposal from  the international community. At present, he said, he cannot see a solution to the Kosovo problem, since all of his previously voiced proposals on Kosovo were declined: ««When I saw a solution everybody said that my vision was poor and that the issue had better be handled by those who do not live in the Balkans and who have nothing to do with  Serbs or Albanians rather than those who ar directly involved in the conflict – these are Serbs and Albanians. This is how influential states have been behaving in this region for more than 150 years». «I am waiting to see what kind of proposal we will receive. If you ask me why I say so and what I expect I will tell you that I do not expect anything. I do not know what they will propose», – President Vucic added.

The Serbian president approved of a decision by the newly formed government of Kosovo to abolish trade tariffs which were imposed on Serbian goods. He said that this decision would pave the way to the resumption of talks between Belgrade and Pristina and that it should facilitate the development of economic ties. «This will set a framework for better cooperation between our business communities», – Aleksandar Vucic underscored.

By the «previous proposals» on Kosovo settlement President Vucic means, first of all, the idea of dividing Kosovo into  the  Serbian  and  Albanian sections, which he and Kosovo President Hashim Taci presented in the middle of 2018 with a view to secure normalization of bilateral relations. The above mentioned measure was designed to guarantee implementation of the key requirement for Serbia’s membership in the European Union. The document included a protocol on a territorial carve-up of Kosovo.

The corresponding agreement was to be signed in early September 2018 in Brussels with the participation of EU leaders. However, the process was stalled by differences over division principles and protests by opposition forces in Belgrade and Pristina.

There existed two projects for the division in question. Under Hashim Taci’s plans, the relevant scenario was to be a “package” one envisaging a comprehensive exchange of territories, including Serb-populated Northern Kosovo communities Leposavic, Zvecan and Zubin Potok (about one fifth of the territory of Kosovo),  Albanian-populated adjacent to Kosovo Southern Serbian communities  Bujanovac and Presevo, and also, if possible, Medveja.

In the opinion of the Kosovo leader, a revision of borders to the effect that regions of Serbia with an Albanian majority would become part of Kosovo, while those populated by Serbs mostly would go to Serbia could ease tension between Belgrade and Pristina. That the Pristina authorities had to hand over to Serbia part of Kosovo was announced by Hashim Taci at the beginning of 2019 as he addressed the Council for International Relations in Washington. In his words, the signing of a corresponding agreement with Belgrade in Brussels under the patronage of the EU would make it possible for Kosovo to secure an approval from  Serbia and join the UN: «If a minor change of the border is the cost of a final peace settlement, it should be acceptable». Such an agreement, Hashim Taci says, should be signed “with the support of the United States”. In his words, it looks like Russia “is ready to accept an agreement which will be reached” between the two parties.

He added that what is meant is «commitment to achieve a comprehensive peace settlement between Kosovo and Serbia, which will guarantee Kosovo a seat in the UN and will enable it to acquire membership in the family of NATO and the EU».

According to the last census in Serbia, about 90 thousand people live in three southern communities of Presevo Valley. The ratio of Serbs and Albanians is as follows: in Presevo – 89% Albanians and 9% Serbs, in Bujanovac – 55% Albanians and 34% Serbs, in Medveja – 26% Albanians and 67% Serbs. Thus, Albanians make up the majority of the population of Presevo and Bujanovac and are “building up” their presence in Medveja.  This triggers concerns in Belgrade.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic agrees in principle to the division of Kosovo, with Belgrade regaining control of the province’s northern areas, but he is against a “package”, which includes the exchange of the territories of Presevo, Medveja and Bujanovac.

However, what disrupted the signing of an agreement in the spring of 2019 was  the negative position of top EU powers: in the first place, France, and especially, Germany. «The territorial integrity of Western Balkans has been formed and cannot be changed», – Chancellor Angela Merkel said: «There have been attempts to start negotiations on the borders but we cannot do it».

After talks between Aleksandar Vucic and  Hashim Taci in Berlin in April 2019 resulted in no concrete agreements, the initiative in the negotiating process was assumed by the United States. It was the Trump administration that issued an ultimatum and de facto forced into resignation the Kosovo Cabinet, led by Albin Kurti, a radically minded politician and a staunch opponent to Hashim Taci and any agreements with Belgrade. In addition, Washington got Pristina to lift the restrictive trade tariffs from Serbian goods – something the European Commission had failed to do before.

Speaking of European countries, Austria has come in support of division of Kosovo as a measure to normalize relations between Belgrade and Pristina. «If Serbia and Kosovo agree on a change of border, Austria will support the move», – Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said as he commented on the situation.

Nevertheless, a whole range of political issues has to be clarified if regional stability is to be achieved and not come under threat.

First of all, these issues embrace the territorial aspect of the “package” agreement, including the list of regions which are covered by it. Apparently, the exchange of territories of Northern Kosovo for the Serbian communities of Presevo Valley, which was proposed by Hashim Taci, does not appear to be fair from the point of view of the Serbian president, let alone for radically minded Serbian parties and politicians, who used this to mount their campaign in the run-up to parliamentary elections, scheduled for June 21st.

Secondly, Brussels’ approval of a new carve-up of the  Balkan borders will inevitably give fresh impetus to debates on the creation of “Greater Albania” – a state which would incorporate Albania proper, the larger part of Kosovo, Presevo Valley, parts of Macedonia, Montenegro, and probably, Greece, with a projected population of about 10 million people. These concerns are far from groundless.

Leaders of neighboring Albania acknowledge the inviolability of the existing borders. In 1992, the then Albanian leader Sali Berisha announced that “the idea of establishing “Greater Albania” was alien to Albanian ruling circles and political forces». However, in 2011 Azgan Haklaj, a member of the Presidium of the Democratic Party of Albania, said openly during his visit to Presevo that allAlbanian territories should be united to form one state. The incumbent Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama, keeps emphasizing that for Tirana, unification of Albania and Kosovo represents the so-called “Plan A”, while division of Kosovo should be viewed as a move in this direction. According to opinion polls, the plan to turn Albanian borders into “ethnic” ones (that  is, to include in  them all Albanian-populated areas in the Balkans) is backed by more than 80% of the population of Kosovo, over 70% of residents of Albania, and by more than half of Macedonian Albanians.

The reasons why the US and the EU, in particular, have been unable to secure a compromise-based long-term solution to the Kosovo issue lie in their unwillingness to pursue a balanced policy regarding regional conflicts in the Balkans. The experience of the 1990s shows that top western powers, forming NATO, sided with one of the parties to military conflicts on the territory of former Yugoslavia, thereby violating the key principles of international peace and law. In 1999 such an approach spilled into aggression against Yugoslavia and the subsequent military and political support of Albanian separatists in Kosovo. As for the EU, this organization, from the very outset, assessed the Balkan problems separately from one another, proceeding from the “uniqueness” of every case.

Such an approach underlay the Stability Pact for Southern and Eastern Europe, which was devised by the European Union and put into effect in 1999 but which never produced any tangible effect or lasting results. The current situation all but confirms that.

AllthisgaveextraimpetustoBelgrade’sandPristina’seffortstoachieveatleastsomebilateralagreements. As acknowledged by Le Monde diplomatique, «a carve-up of regional borders on the ethnolinguistic and religious principles may receive more momentum in the course of talks between Belgrade and Pristina. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic makes no secret of his readiness to recognize Kosovo in exchange for territorial concessions, whereas his counterpart Hashim Taci hopes to invite Serbian Albanians to live in his country», – the French newspaper reports.

Given the situation, Russia, with due regard for its interests and the history of Serbian-Russian relations, finds it important to use the models which the authorities in Belgrade and Pristina are currently ready to accept, including division and exchange of territories on the basis of a compromise and under the supervision and guarantees of the international community represented by the UN and its Security Council. Russian officials, in the first place, President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, has repeatedly pointed out that Moscow will welcome “any solution which will meet the interests of Serbia”.

About his country’s foreign policy priorities, including those related to the issue of Kosovo, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic made a clear statement a few days ago to this effect. He said that Serbia has been cooperating with Russia and China in the same manner as many other countries of the EU and that simultaneously, it has no intention to give up on  its policy of integrating with the EU – trade with the EU is at an all-time high: «We want to belong to this community. But don’t forget that Serbia is in a specific situation, when we talk about Kosovo and Metohia. The undivided support for Serbia’s integrity comes from China and Russia, we have very good economic and other tie with these countries».

Simultaneously, he pointed out that Serbia, due to its geopolitical position, cannot say a decisive ‘no’ to either the EU, or the USA.

Considering the above mentioned, Russia considers it essential to continue to render diplomatic and political support to Serbia’s incumbent authorities and keep a close eye on what is happening around Kosovo, where they forecast the possibility of an  escalation of tension between the EU and the USA. 

From our partner International Affairs

Europe

Europe tells Biden “no way” to Cold War with China

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Amidst the first big transatlantic tensions for the Biden Administration, a new poll shows that the majority of Europeans see a new Cold War happening between the United States and China, but they don’t see themselves as a part of it.

Overwhelmingly, 62% of Europeans believe that the US is engaged in a new Cold War against China, a new poll just released by the European Council on Foreign Relations found. Just yesterday US President Joe Biden claimed before the UN General Assembly that there is no such thing and the US is not engaging in a new Cold War. So, Europeans see Biden’s bluff and call him on it.

The study was released on Wednesday by Mark Leonard and Ivan Krastev at the European Council on Foreign Relations and found that Europeans don’t see themselves as direct participants in the US-China Cold War. This viewpoint is most pronounced in Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, Portugal and Italy, according to the study. The prevailing view, in each of the 12 surveyed EU member states, is one of irrelevance – with respondents in Hungary (91%), Bulgaria (80%), Portugal (79%), and Austria (78%) saying that their country is not in a conflict with Beijing.

Only 15% of Europeans believe that the EU is engaged in a Cold War against China. The percentage is so low that one wonders if there should even be such a question. It is not only not a priority, it is not even a question on the agenda for Europeans. Even at the highest point of EU “hawkishness”, only 33% of Swedes hold the view that their country is currently in a Cold War with China.  Leonard and Krastev warn that if Washington and Brussels are preparing for an all-in generational struggle against China, this runs against the grain of opinion in Europe, and leaders in Washington and Brussels will quickly discover that they “do not have a societal consensus behind them”.

“The European public thinks there is a new cold war – but they don’t want to have anything to do with it. Our polling reveals that a “cold war” framing risks alienating European voters”, Mark Leonard said.

The EU doesn’t have the backing of its citizens to follow the US in its new Cold War pursuit. But unlike the views of the authors of the study, my view is that this is not a transatlantic rift that we actually have to be trying to fix. Biden’s China policy won’t be Europe’s China policy, and that’s that, despite US efforts to persuade Europe to follow, as I’ve argued months ago for the Brussels Report and in Modern Diplomacy.

In March this year, Gallup released a poll that showed that 45% of Americans see China as the greatest US enemy. The poll did not frame the question as Cold War but it can be argued that Joe Biden has some mandate derived from the opinion of American people. That is not the case for Europe at all, to the extent that most of us don’t see “China as an enemy” even as a relevant question.

The US’s China pursuit is already giving horrible for the US results in Europe, as French President Macron withdrew the French Ambassador to the US. The US made a deal already in June, as a part of the trilateral partnership with the UK and Australia, and stabbed France in the back months ago to Macron’s last-minute surprise last week. Max Boot at the Council on Foreign Relations argues that it is Macron that is actually arrogant to expect that commitments and deals should mean something: “Back in February, Macron rejected the idea of a U.S.-E.U. common front against China. Now he complains when America pursues its own strategy against China. What’s French for chutzpah?” What Boot does get right is that indeed, there won’t be a joint US-EU front on China, and European citizens also don’t want this, as the recent poll has made clear.

The US saying Europe should follow the US into a Cold War with China over human rights is the same thing as China saying that Europe should start a Cold War with the US over the bad US human rights record. It’s not going to happen. You have to understand that this is how ridiculous the proposition sounds to us, Europeans. Leonard and Krastev urge the EU leadership to “make the case for more assertive policies” towards China around European and national interests rather than a Cold War logic, so that they can sell a strong, united, and compelling case for the future of the Atlantic alliance to European citizens.

I am not sure that I agree, as “more assertive policies” and “cold war” is probably the same thing in the mind of most Europeans and I don’t think that the nuance helps here or matters at all. Leaders like Biden argue anyway that the US is not really pursuing a Cold War. The authors caution EU leaders against adopting a “cold war” framing. You say “framing”, I say “spin”. Should we be in engaging in spins at all to sell unnecessary conflict to EU citizens only to please the US?

Unlike during the first cold war, [Europeans] do not see an immediate, existential threat”, Leonard clarified. European politicians can no longer rely on tensions with China to convince the electorate of the value of transatlantic relations. “Instead, they need to make the case from European interests, showing how a rebalanced alliance can empower and restore sovereignty to European citizens in a dangerous world”, Mark Leonard added. The study shows that there is a growing “disconnect” between the policy ambitions of those in Brussels and how Europeans think. EU citizens should stick to their sentiments and not be convinced to look for conflict where it doesn’t exist, or change what they see and hear with their own eyes and ears in favor of elusive things like the transatlantic partnership, which the US itself doesn’t believe in anyways. And the last thing that should be done is to scare Europeans by convincing them they live in a “dangerous world” and China is the biggest threat or concern.

What the study makes clear is that a Cold War framing against China is likely to repel more EU voters than it attracts, and if there is one thing that politicians know it is that you have to listen to the polls in what your people are telling you instead of engaging in spins. Those that don’t listen in advance get the signs eventually. At the end of the day it’s not important what Biden wants.

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Germany and its Neo-imperial quest

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In January 2021, eight months ago, when rumours about the possibility of appointment of Christian Schmidt as the High Representative in Bosnia occurred for the first time, I published the text under the title ‘Has Germany Lost Its NATO Compass?’. In this text I announced that Schmidt was appointed to help Dragan Čović, the leader of the Croatian HDZ party, to disrupt the constitutional structure of Bosnia-Herzegovina and create precoditions for secession of the Serb- and Croatian-held territories in Bosnia and the country’s final dissolution. I can hardly add anything new to it, except for the fact that Schmidt’s recent statements at the conference of Deutsche Atlantische Gesellschaft have fully confirmed my claims that his role in Bosnia is to act as Čović’s ally in the latter’s attempts to carve up the Bosnian Constitution.

Schmidt is a person with a heavy burden, the burden of a man who has continuously been promoting Croatian interests, for which the Croatian state decorated him with the medal of “Ante Starčević”, which, in his own words, he “proudly wears” and shares with several Croatian convicted war criminals who participated in the 1992-1995 aggression on Bosnia, whom Schmidt obviously perceives as his ideological brethren. The question is, then, why Germany appointed him as the High Representative in Bosnia? 

Germany’s policy towards Bosnia, exercised mostly through the institutions of the European Union, has continuously been based on the concept of Bosnia’s ethnic partition. The phrases that we can occassionaly hear from the EU, on inviolability of state boundaries in the Balkans, is just a rhetoric adapted to the demands by the United States to keep these boundaries intact. So far, these boundaries have remained intact mainly due to the US efforts to preserve them. However, from the notorious Lisbon Conference in February 1992 to the present day, the European Union has always officially stood behind the idea that Bosnia-Herzegovina should be partitioned along ethnic lines. At the Lisbon Conference, Lord Carrington and Jose Cutileiro, the official representatives of the then European Community, which has in the meantime been rebranded as the European Union, drew the maps with lines of ethnic partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina, along which the ethnic cleansing was committed, with 100.000 killed and 1,000.000 expelled, so as to make its territory compatible with their maps. Neither Germany nor the European Union have ever distanced themselves from the idea they promoted and imposed at the Lisbon Conference as ‘the only possible solution’ for Bosnia, despite the grave consequences that followed. Nor has this idea ever stopped being a must within their foreign policy circles, as it has recently been demonstrated by the so-called Janša Non-Paper, launched a couple of months ago, which also advocates the final partition and dissolution of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Such a plan is probably a product of the powerful right-wing circles in the European institutions, such as Schmidt’s CSU, rather than a homework of Janez Janša, the current Prime Minister of Slovenia, whose party is a part of these circles, albeit a minor one. To be sure, Germany is not the original author of the idea of Bosnia’s partition, this author is Great Britain, which launched it directly through Lord Carrington at the Lisbon Conference. Yet, Germany has never shown a will to distance itself from this idea, nor has it done the European Union. Moreover, the appointment of Schmidt, as a member of those political circles which promote ethnic partition as the only solution for multiethnic countries, testifies to the fact that Germany has decided to fully apply this idea and act as its chief promoter.

In this process, the neighbouring countries, Serbia and Croatia, with their extreme nationalist policies, can only act as the EU’s proxies, in charge for the physical implemenation of Bosnia’s pre-meditated disappearance. All the crimes that Serbia and Croatia committed on the Bosnian soil – from the military aggression, over war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide, up to the 30 year-long efforts to undermine Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – have always had a direct approval and absolute support of the leading EU countries. During the war and in its aftermath, Great Britain and France were the leaders of the initiatives to impose ethnic partition on the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and now Germany has taken up their role. In such a context, the increasing aggressiveness of Serbia and Croatia can only be interpreted as a consequence of the EU’s intention to finish with Bosnia for good, and Schmidt has arrived to Bosnia to facilitate that process. Therefore, it is high time for the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina to abandon any ilussions about the true intentions of the European Union and reject its Trojan Horse in the form of the current High Representative.  

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Should there be an age limit to be President?

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The presidential elections in Bulgaria are nearing in November 2021 and I would like to run for President of Bulgaria, but the issue is the age limit.

To run for President in Bulgaria a candidate needs to be at least 40 years old and I am 37. I am not the first to raise the question: should there be an age limit to run for President, and generally for office, and isn’t an age limit actually age discrimination?

Under the international human rights law standard, putting an age limit is allowed in the context of political participation under the right to vote and the right to run to be elected. Human Rights Committee General Comment No.25 interpreting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that an age limit has to be based on objective and reasonable criteria, adding that it is reasonable to have a higher age requirement for certain offices. As it stands, the law says that having an age limit for president is not age discrimination, but is 40 actually a reasonable cut-off? National legislations can change. We need to lower the age limit and rethink what’s a reasonable age for President, and not do away with all age limits.

We have seen strong leaders emerge as heads of state and government who are below 40 years of age. Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, became Prime Minister at 34. Sebastrian Kurz, the Prime Minister of Austria, was elected at 31. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, assumed her position at 37. So perhaps it is time to rethink age limits for the highest offices.

The US has plenty of examples where elected Senators and Congressmen actually beat the age limit and made it despite the convention. The age limit for Senator in the US is 30 years old. Rush Holt was elected to the US Senate at 29. In South Carolina, two State Senators were elected at 24 years old and they were seated anyways. The age limit for US president is 35 years old.

In Argentina, the age cut-off is 30. In India, it is 35. In Pakistan, it is 45 years old. In Turkey, it is 40 years old. Iceland says 35 years old. In France, it is 18.

Generally, democracies set lower age limits. More conservative countries set the age limit higher in line with stereotypes rather than any real world evidence that a 45 year-old or 55 year-old person would be more effective and better suited to the job. Liberal countries tend to set lower age limits.

40 years old to be a President of Bulgaria seems to be an arbitrary line drawn. And while it is legal to have some age limits, 40 years old seems to be last century. Changing the age limit for president of Bulgaria could be a task for the next Bulgarian Parliament for which Bulgarians will also vote on the same date as they vote for President.

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